It is no secret that the last few years have been tumultuous for the maritime industry—particularly for young women joining the merchant fleet, who have all too often been victims of unwanted sexual discrimination and assault. The United States Coast Guard took steps toward ensuring the safety and well-being of women in the traditionally male-dominated maritime sector earlier this year with the passing of the “Safer Seas Act.” Since then, the Coast Guard has explained the Safer Seas Act through Marine Safety Information Bulletin 1-23, “Reporting Sexual Misconduct on U.S. Vessels” and—more recently—through MSIB 13-23, “Coast Guard Policies to Address Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Prevention and Response on Vessels.” All mariners should be aware of these significant changes to the law.
Enacted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023, the Safer Seas Act was passed in response to the Midshipman-X scandal and many other victims of maritime sexual misconduct speaking out about their experiences at sea. The Act was meant to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment in the maritime industry to make the seas safer for female merchant mariners.
The Safer Seas Act represents a comprehensive legislative response to address sexual assault and harassment within the maritime industry. This legislation imposes new requirements on non-passenger-carrying, ocean-going, commercial vessels, necessitating many changes to shipboard equipment and policies.
The Safer Seas Act contains many significant shifts in the maritime industry, promoting a culture of safety, accountability, and stewardship. The legislation addresses critical gaps in the regulatory framework by enhancing safety standards and mandating incident reporting.
As previously noted in MSIB 1-23, the Safer Seas Act now requires vessel owners to immediately report to the Coast Guard any instances of shipboard harassment, sexual harassment, and/or sexual assault. MSIB 13-23 goes on to explain that 46 U.S.C. § 3203 has been amended to require additional procedures and training related to sexual harassment and sexual assault. Applicable vessel owners and operators are directed to include in their Safety Management Systems (SMS) specific reporting and documenting procedures for shipboard sexual misconduct. 46 U.S.C.§ 10104.
The Safer Seas Act will require some vessels to integrate new surveillance technology to increase crewmember accountability. 46 U.S.C. § 4901 was amended to require installation and use of audio/video cameras in areas like crew cabin hallways. Vessel owners are required to retain the surveillance footage a specified amount of time and train their crews on how to protect the footage from deletion. Indeed, 46 U.S.C. § 11101 now requires vessels to prominently display the company’s sexual misconduct policies, how long video footage must be stored, how to access video footage, methods to report issues, and steps to respond to instances of sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Building on the importance of preventing unauthorized access to private crew quarters, many vessels are now required under 46 U.S.C. § 3106 to establish master key control systems. Master key control systems may include limiting access to certain crewmembers and increasing accountability by documenting or logging who accesses the keys.
The Safer Seas Act represents a holistic legislative initiative aimed at tackling the enduring problem of sexual assault and harassment within the maritime sector. It introduces additional reporting, training, and surveillance mandates for vessel owners, operators, and employers, ultimately bolstering the safety and welfare of everyone on board commercial vessels.
If you feel that you may have been sexually assaulted or sexually harassed at sea, the Safer Seas Act and many other maritime laws may be available to help. Mariner Law, PLLC offers free and confidential consultations to victims of sexual misconduct aboard vessels. Many remedies are subject to strict statutes of limitation—so don’t delay. Contact an experienced maritime lawyer today: (253) 600-2531.